By Mitch Abramson
Gavin Rees and Adrien Broner both thrust their hands in their pockets and stood on a stage as they posed for pictures, looking like a couple of guys trying to fend off the cold. Rees is challenging Broner for his WBC lightweight championship Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, and it’s possible the two didn’t want to start the fight early, after all the trash talking held between them. So they both put their money-makers away, producing the odd sight of two guys, posing awkwardly for what’s typically the most exciting part of a press conference. Finally, a photographer had enough and yelled: “Take your hands out of your pocket!”
They both obliged, reluctantly making a fist. But reticence likely won’t be a problem on Saturday, as Broner has been especially vocal and derogatory toward Rees, a blue-collar fighter from Newport, Wales who’s making his American debut in Atlantic City. Broner just couldn’t help himself and started the trash talking early in Tuesday’s press conference, claiming he didn’t know Rees’ name, had never heard of him, seen him fight, and comparing Rees’ bald head to a “skittle,” a “boulder,” a “melon” and a “mailbox.”
Rees in turn fired pack, with a few choice words, and it all looked like two guys trying to infuse a little life into a promotion that was hurt when the heavyweight rematch between Seth Mitchell and Johnathan Banks was scuttled because of an injury to Banks' hand.
“I don’t know if he’s confident, or if he’s just arrogant or if he has a problem,” Rees said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. But I firmly believe I’m going to win. But we go about things in different ways. There’s no need to disrespect to get your point across.”
There’s no doubt Broner can fight - he dominated Antonio De Marco in his last fight, stopping him in eight rounds to wrest away the WBC title, in a manner that surprised some. But as the public knows by now, Broner (25-0, 21 knockouts) is not just about fighting- he’s also about self-promotion, so he raps while walking to the ring, combs his hair while doing post-fight interviews, and talks about how great he is. Nothing wrong with that. But when does the trash talking get old, when does the routine of combing his hair after a fight start to seem like an old lounge act? Broner is still just 23 and has plenty of time to think of new ways to sell himself, beyond his physical gifts. For now, he continues to use Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a reference point, someone to look up to in terms of self-promotion and becoming a future Pay-Per-View star. For this bout, he seems to be playing the villain like Floyd.
“That’s my big brother, very humble, smart intelligent guy,” Broner said of Mayweather. “I love that guy. A lot of people would get to this point and not be hungry anymore, but he’s still hungry to be a champion. I respect that.”
Rees was asked if he’s ever come across a fighter as arrogant as Broner- the 23-year-old from Cincinnati claims he’s the best fighter of this era. Rees stopped to think and came up with Floyd Mayweather Jr., but there’s a difference, he said.
“Mayweather has a lot of [arrogance], but he does it in a way that he doesn’t act like that,” Rees said, probably undervaluing the intensity of some of Mayweather’s comments. “He does it in a good way and he backs it up in the ring. He’s a great talent and he’s proved it for years and years. But it’s not funny at all what [Broner] is doing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You shouldn’t act like that if you’ve won 20 titles. You should respect and talk good to people instead of disrespecting them. There’s no need to that.”
For Broner, showing his softer side on Tuesday consisted of admitting to reporters that he actually got hurt three different times in three previous fights, but that he did a good job not to show it, against De Marco, Ponce De Leon and against Terrance Jett, earlier in his career.
“I was always taught in every sport, don’t show emotion,” Broner said. “My dad was big on that.”
After verbally assaulting Rees on stage, he took a more deferential tone with his opponent as he sat down with reporters in a more intimate setting.
“Honestly, I really haven’t looked at him,” Broner said of Rees. “I never seen him fight, but he was a world champion at 140 and I know what it takes to be a world champion. He’s 37-1 and his only loss is to [Andreas] Kotelnik and I heard he fought the [heck] out of Kotelnik so I know he’s going to come to fight. Kotelnik is a big puncher, but he’s not Adrien Broner at the end of the day.”
Rees may not have many advantages over Broner, but size could be a factor. Rees is coming down in weight, after he won a WBA junior welterweight title in 2007, in a decision victory over Souleymane M’Baye.
“I have a lot of power for the weight,” Rees said in his thick, rapid-fire cadence. “I have a great nutritionist, put me on a great diet and a good plan and just feel good and strong. I’m comfortable. Sometimes, fighters don’t want to eat or drink when they’re trying to make weight but I’m still at three meals a day. I’m good and strong and ready.”
His lone blemish on his record came against Kotelnik, when he was stopped in the 12th round back in 2008, losing his WBA title in the process. Rees chalks that loss up to not taking care of himself outside the ring.
“I was training but wasn’t living life as a boxer, having fast food, a couple cans of lager two weeks before a fight,” he says. “It is what it is. I know it’s wrong but I done it. I done it all throughout my career until three years ago. I always got away with it on natural ability, and when you keep getting away with it you keep doing it. And that’s what I did. Even some fights I’d drink a week before a fight. But then I was doing that, killing myself, putting on a lot of weight [and then losing it]. It is what it is. I wish I could go back and do what I’m doing now. I could have [been better prepared].”
He described his drinking as recreational in nature, only on weekends, while hanging out with his buddies, living the single life as he described it.
“If you’re single, let’s go out with the boys and have a couple of pints,” he said. “I’m just telling the truth.”
Unlike Broner, who claims never to have watched tapes of his opponent, Rees admitted he has watched footage of Broner.
“Everyone else who fought him took a lot of punches and stood in front of him,” Rees said. “[Daniel] Ponce De Leon saw that using a little movement- he’d be able to hit him back. [Antonio] De Marco fought him and walked forward but didn’t throw any punches. I throw 100 punches every round and I come forward and I have a great chin.”
Rees (37-1-1, 19 knockouts) said he knows what to expect from Broner.
“I know not to rush in,” he says, “and to be patient and just pick my shots.”
Gavin arrived in New York a month before the fight to get acclimated to the area, and trained near the Bronx.
“I didn’t really want to go away from my family but the team wanted me to do so,” Rees said. “So I came. It’s a massive occasion for me. It’s the biggest one I’m going to get so I had to take it. There’s less distractions here and it’s got me in great condition. I don’t think I’ve ever been like this before.”
He did his road work in Central Park, before the snow storm last week made that impossible.
“I’ve been building up for this fight, since I’ve been with [trainer] Gary [Lockett] for three years,” Rees said. “It means everything to me. This is my life.”
And of course, he hopes that Broner can at least remember his name after the fight.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.